Aerial view
Aerial view of a large area, in grey, of standing dead Atlantic white cedar, apparently due to saltwater intrusion during Superstorm Sandy. (Photo: Courtesy of Ken Able)

In the marsh lands of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, you may stumble across a spooky sight: hundreds of dead Atlantic white cedars poking out of the water. Some people call these places “ghost forests”.

Able: “Locally, we refer to these as cedar cemeteries.”

Ken Able directs the Rutgers University Marine Field Station. He says cedar trees need fresh water to live. As sea levels rise, salt water slowly creeps inland, killing trees and converting forest to marsh.

Seas have been rising for a long time, and Able says some drowned trees have been around for centuries. But as climate change speeds up the process, trees are dying in larger numbers than ever before.

Able: “We have noticed over the last 15, 20 years that there is an increasing amount of dead, standing trees in the watershed. Broad areas, sometimes acres at a time, are completely dead.”

Able says the changing habitat could also threaten wildlife in the pine barrens.

Able: “We have to slow sea-level rise. I don’t know that there is any other way that this process can be stopped.”

Dead cedars in water
Dead ancient cedars now sit in marshy sea water. (Photo: Courtesy of Ken Able)

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

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Sarah Kennedy

Sarah Kennedy is an editor and content producer with ChavoBart Digital Media, a production firm with a focus on scientific and environmental media. Her work on Climate Connections includes developing story...